As predicted by many following the (hopefully temporary) departures of Georges St. Pierre and Anderson Silva, 2014 is already looking like a bit of a down year for UFC. It probably didn't help matters that Ronda Rousey dismantled Sara McMann in 66 seconds at UFC 170 after the pre-match hype tried to make this fight a mainstream event. In fact, Rousey's follow-up claim that she can beat up Floyd Mayweather, Jr. was probably more interesting than her actual fight with McMann.
But with about a month to go before UFC 171 on March 15 in Dallas, there is a story for fans to cling to: Which fighter will replace St. Pierre as the Welterweight title holder? Granted, title fights are more interesting when there's actually a defending champion in the octagon. But with the sport looking for new popular faces and champions to hold up, this is certainly a fight to watch - even if there isn't necessarily a charismatic, seat-filling celebrity fighting.
So who will wind up with Georges St. Pierre's title belt? Previews online are limited this far in advance of the fight. However, the online sports news and odds site Betfair has early odds for the bout posted, and there are a few brief previews that we can use in combination with knowledge of the fighters to bring you our own look at UFC 171, complete with the title prediction.
Again, the odds and predictions around the Internet are limited, but the early betting line has Johny Hendricks out front with 1/4 odds to win (meaning a $4 bet on Hendricks would yield $1 profit should he win). Robbie Lawler is a fairly heavy underdog early with 14/5 odds to take the title.
The status of Johny Hendricks as the betting favorite is certainly justified in this particular fight. Not only is he the more accomplished fighter in his career, but this same title was very nearly his (and some believe should have been his) when he essentially gave St. Pierre a beat-down at UFC 167 before St. Pierre retired.
In an interview as part of a fight preview with MMA Junkie, Hendricks sounds extraordinarily confident that he won't let this belt slip from his grasp again. However, Hendricks also acknowledges that this will be an extremely difficult match, and is quoted in The Globe & Mail as saying Lawler is a more difficult opponent than GSP.
Lawler, for his part, is an interesting case. Fans will remember that he disappeared from UFC for the better part of a decade, but he's returned looking like a more skilled, refined version of the teen phenom that first exploded onto the MMA scene in the younger days of the sport. Lawler is a tenacious, often-surprising fighter with the power and inventiveness to take down just about anybody, and he's eager to continue his strong return to UFC.
Thinking back to the Hendricks-GSP fight, it's hard to imagine Hendricks failing to win this title. Our prediction is that Hendricks comes out on top, but it won't be easy, and the disparity in betting odds is, by our guess, too great.
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